Back in 1980 I went on my first holiday abroad. Being on my own and wary of high mountains I decided to opt for an organised holiday and chose Andorra with Ramblers Holidays.
The trip was well organised and apart from two misplaced elderly ladies who "walked round St James Park in London every day" everyone was well matched in fitness. The ladies were organised with a series of low level strolls and the rest of us set off for the hills.
For those who have never been there Andorra in summer is a ridgewalkers delight. Similar to the high ridges of Skye but with easier access. The mountains rise to around 10,000 feet and the basecamp village of Encamp sat at 6000 feet. Although late in the season there were lots of flowers and more crickets and grasshoppers than I've ever seen before or since!
The first day was a gentle stroll round the village and then an easy pull to a viewpoint on a nearby crag. The leader then left us "to explore".... Dave from Yorkshire noticed a track leading onwards and upwards so several of us set off following behind him. We eventually wound up on top of a hill beside a lighting struck tree and a terrific view of the ridges opposite. Dave then led us down a gully - which turned into an excercise in scrabbling down a series of dried up waterfalls up to 10 feet high!
Next day we had our first real stroll starting at Soldeu - a place familiar to thousands of skiiers, being Andorra's premier resort in winter. For us the runs provided pleasant walking up to a wide hanging valley where we picked up an old mule track back to Encamp.
Day 3 took us up Casamanya. I was feeling frisky by this time and soon left the others behind, eventually reaching the summit and heading off down the South ridge. This took me back to the summit from day one. I reversed that route via the viewpoint and was back at the hotel about an hour before the others showed up.
This kind of set the pattern for the rest of the days to come. Either me on my own, or with Dave for company, would gradually pull away from the others following roughly the route outlined by the tour guide. Mostly this worked well, although on one occasion I did manage to climb the wrong hill. Dave had seen me and came up behind me and fetched me back. As it was we caught up with the others just as they reached the road so we got 2 hills for the price of one - and some superbly exposed scrambling across a narrow arete as well!
The finale to the trip was the superb Circue des Pessons. These hills form a high level ridge almost continuously above 9000 feet. The scenery is stunning and we met a local shepherd with dogs who showed us a newly built mountain hut - to a Scottish bothy user it was positively palatial!
I fell in love with Andorra on that trip and have been back skiing several times. I would really like to explore the higher Northern Pyrenees too but never quite seem to make it, maybe someday....